Does Organic Mean Pesticide Free?

Do you buy Organic food? If so, why? Are you hoping to avoid pesticides?

The U.S. organic industry is booming! In 2015, organic food in the U.S. made over $43 billion in annual sales and it’s continuing to trend upwards. Avoiding pesticides is the number one reason people shop organic. But here is the thing, organic farmers do use pesticides and fungicides to treat their crops. In fact, there are many chemicals that are approved by the US Department of Agriculture for use in certified organic agriculture.

So what is the difference between the pesticides used in organic and conventionally grown food? It is the origin of the pesticide. Most organic pesticides must come from a natural source, as opposed to synthetic pesticides that are common in conventional agriculture. But does naturally derived pesticides mean that they are better for the environment or less carcinogenic? Scientific American writes, “It has been assumed for years that pesticides that occur naturally (in certain plants, for example) are somehow better for us and the environment than those that have been created by man. As more research is done into their toxicity, however, this simply isn’t true, either. Many natural pesticides have been found to be potential – or serious – health risks.”

Organic Farmers Use Pesticides Salad on Fork

And while certified organic farmers may be using primarily naturally occurring pesticides, the U.S. Department of Agriculture does allow,”some synthetic substances are listed as exceptions to the basic rule and are allowed for use in organic agriculture.” For instance, farmers may use specific synthetically derived pheromones or animal vaccinations and continue to receive their organic certification.

There are several critics of the Organic Certification process. Michael Pollan (you may know him from his many books or the Netflix series COOKED) tells Organic Gardening Magazine many organic farmers are “organic by the letter, not organic in spirit… if most organic consumers went to those places, they would feel they were getting ripped off.”

Which brings up these questions, what is stopping us from knowing what is happening to our food? What if instead of purchasing our certified organic produce at triple the cost, we went beyond organic? What if we traveled to our backyard and pulled our own tomatoes that we grew ourselves? Or we made a visit to a local farmer and supported them? What if we looked beyond the marketing and started a food revolution? I have a feeling we’d find what we are looking for in our produce: more biodiversity for our environment, less disease for ourselves, and a more stable local economy. Who is ready to start a revolution?